Oct/Nov 2008 Poetry Special Feature

Landscape, 1917

by Jennifer Finstrom

Landscape, 1917

Heinrich Campendonk (German, 1889-1957)
Oil on canvas

It is difficult to imagine this portal
to another world, but I will ask
you to try. There is, as always,
a place to begin. We will start
with snow, a great white canvas
that stretches farther back than you
are able to see. No sound is audible
but that of small boots breaking
a thin layer of ice. The snow is soft
beneath, nothing but powder.

There are trees here like none
you have ever seen. A red
one splits in the foreground,
cuts the world in two. Others
are blades of azure and violet,
cruel magenta. Arms of viridian
fir. Snow hoods them in silence.
They make no demands,
give and offer nothing.

The sun furnishes little warmth.
It is hard and red, buttoned
to the sky. The missing heat
is elsewhere. Not in the small
house that perches, surrounded
by stabbings of trees. Not
in the ground, though the roots
are reaching for it, delving for
the veins of gemstones
that hurry through the earth.

The animal at the foot
of the bisecting tree is also red.
You will think that you know
what it is. It is graceful, slender,
bending down as if it would
graze on the soft snow. But look
again, more closely, for the thing
that is hidden in plain view.
The trees have already told you
what you need to know,
and the crimson deer reveals
the face of a waking bear.

Look again and keep looking.
There are clues everywhere.
A curl of cold smoke, the color
of tobacco, dribbles from a chimney.
There is one soft footfall and then
another. Someone walks, and someone
else follows. A boy sinks into
the snow, inspecting the ground
for some trail that he has left.

The girl, behind him, unravels
her mitten until the blue is all
undone. It swirls behind her,
is caught in the wind's mouth.
The children see the flash of red,
go forward through the drifts.
If you listen carefully, as the trees
do, you will hear the blood
of rubies, sluggish now and
warm, in the body of the earth.


Previous Piece Next Piece